JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The man who served as the 44th governor of Florida received a warm welcome Sunday from members at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

Charlie Crist, a candidate for governor of Florida, came to Jacksonville to spread his message about reducing crime and keeping people safe. He stopped in an area of town that frequently deals with shootings and murders, and the church he spoke at recently came together for a 24 hour prayer service to end violence.

"We have to have safe communities, our children have to be safe in school," said Crist. "I think it's important to make sure all of our communities are safe, to enforce our laws (and) appoint fair judges."

When asked, the former Republican-turned-Democrat defended his stance on the restoration of gun rights to former felons.

"One of the first things I did was restore the rights of former non-violent felons. Rick Scott took that away along with the attorney general," said Crist. "I just think that's wrong, and the reason I know it's wrong is I believe in forgiveness."

Crist's call for safer communities comes as police are investigating a shooting less than a mile away from the church where he was speaking.

"I'm still tough on crime. I don't want our people to be murdered -- I don't want to have drive-bys in our communities," said Crist.

The former governor said he's looking forward to the race ahead, and was adamant about returning to the governor's mansion.